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Turkey due to defend jailing of German journalist

Cagri Özdemir
October 24, 2017

As the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel awaits trial in Istanbul, Ankara is on deadline to submit its defense of his detention to Europe's human rights court. DW spoke with Yücel's lawyer and wife.

Poeple protest the detention of Deniz Yücel
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. McDougall

Since being arrested in February for "inciting hatred" and supporting "terrorist propaganda," Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for the German daily Die Welt, has been held in detention with no formal charges for 253 days. 

After waiting in vain for Turkish prosecutors to issue charges, in April Yücel filed a lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Die Welt's parent company, WeltN24, followed suit in August, lodging a complaint at the ECHR that Yücel's right as a member of the press to report freely had been violated.

Dilek Yücel speaks to DW about jailed journalist, Deniz

The court prioritized Yücel's application among the roughly 23,000 cases pending against Turkey and requested that the government submit its defense of his detention by midnight (2200 UTC) on Tuesday. Yücel's lawyer Veysel Ok told DW he is hopeful the Turkish authorities will comply.

But Ok recognized the need to be realistic, pointing out that Turkey has the right to request an extension of the deadline as it has in similar cases in the past.

Dual citizen Yücel was initially detained after he reported on a series of hacked emails that were allegedly sent from the private account of Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The contents of the emails were deemed "sensitive" by the Turkish authorities.

Ok said Yücel's initial detention and later arrest revolved around baseless accusations.

"The 'evidence' to make the case for his arrest were the news articles that were regarded as 'inciting hatred' and 'terrorist propaganda,'" Ok told DW.

"Unless he is calling for violence, which is not the case, he should walk free, when Turkish law, the constitution and the legal precedents of the ECHR are taken into consideration," he said.

Yücel is not alone, nor is he the only journalist among those who have been arrested due to similar interpretations of Turkish anti-terror laws in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

Read more: Jailed journalists win press freedom prize

Deniz Yücel, Mesale Tolu and Peter Steudtner
Yücel (left) is one of many Germans being held in Turkish jailsImage: picture-alliance/dap/Zentralbild/K. Schindler/privat/TurkeyRelease Germany

According to P24, an Istanbul-based internet platform that monitors the pending trials of arrested media workers, over 150 journalists are being held in jail in Turkey, most of whom were arrested in the wake of the coup attempt.

"The fact that prosecutors have not made formal charges is a fiasco," said Dilek Yücel, the journalist's wife. "We wonder why the indictment is not ready yet and what it will consist of," she told DW by telephone as she paid a weekly prison visit to her husband.

Delayed justice

There has been no official explanation as to why the 44-year-old journalist has not yet been formally accused. The secrecy surrounding the criminal proceedings against Yücel, mean his lawyer cannot access the indictment before it's presented in court. Nor has the lawyer been able to meet with the prosecutor, Dilek Yücel said.

There were no legal grounds for such a delay in due process, according to Ok, who said that the only reasons deemed acceptable — if the prosecutor was still collecting evidence against the defendant or if there were more than one defendant — did not apply to Yücel's case.

"This means Yücel's fundamental right to stand trial or to defend himself has been violated," Ok said.

Dilek Yücel
Dilek Yücel says her husband's case is a human rights issueImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Kalaene

Despite the opaqueness of the legal proceedings, the basis for his arrest is evident. "He has been arrested only on the grounds of his reporting, and those grounds could all be considered journalistic activities," Dilek Yücel said. "Some of them are even mistranslations."

"The unfair treatment that he is subjected to is not only against him, but it's against humanity at large" she said.

Ok expressed dismay that his client had become a political issue as relations between Turkey and Germany have soured, stressing that "there is only one principle that we all need to defend, that is to defend the press and reporting freedom. This is how we see the case."

Read more: Turkey hints at rapprochement with Germany

Dilek Yücel expressed disgust that her husband appeared to have been taken hostage.

"It is such a shame that he has become an issue between the two countries," she said. "Deniz is not Incirlik Air Base, Deniz is a person, and he is a journalist. If politicians turn a person's life into a political tool, then there is a problem of humanity and human rights."

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